Members of the Zaidi Shia sect continue to battle government troops and argue that they are marginalised and discriminated against.

The defendants refused to accept the legitimacy of the court and declined to appeal against their sentences.

Batches of fighting

The same court has sentenced 10 other fighters to death for the same charges in recent months.

Up to 190 rebels are being tried in batches over fighting in Bani Hoshaish, northeast of the capital, Sanaa, between March and June 2008.

Hundreds of people were killed and wounded in the clashes.

The rebels, whose stronghold is in the northern mountains, are accused by the government of seeking to restore the Zaidi imamate that ended in a republican coup in 1962.

The fighters are known as Houthis after their late commander, Hussein Badr Eddin al-Houthi, who was killed in 2004. He was succeeded as field commander by his brother, Abdul Malak.

The Zaidis are a minority in mainly Sunni Yemen but form the majority in the north.